We come to Psalm 133 in our study of the Pilgrim
psalms "Songs of ascents." These are fifteen short psalms
purposely grouped together coming immediately after the
longest psalm in the psalter (Psalm 119 that's also the
longest chapter in Scripture, as you probably know.) Psalm
119, a psalm entirely about the Word of God, is immediately
followed by these 15 short psalms, all grouped together and
labeled with the same inscription: "A Song of Ascents." It's a
small collection of choruses within the book of psalms that
seems to have been collected for singing by pilgrims making
the journey to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. Road-trip
We've already studied thirteen of the fifteen psalms in the
collection, and the two that remain are both very short three
verses each. And here's something interesting. Both of the
two final Psalms of Ascent begin with the same word. It's a
Hebrew word the ESV translators have translated as "Behold"
in psalm 133, and Psalm 134 in they render the same word as
"Come." The KJV, the New KJV, and the NASB all translate
the word "Behold." (The NIV in Psalm 134 seems to leave it
Psalm 133 2
But it's an important word for setting the tone of the
psalm. It's like an exclamation. Grammatically, it's known as
a demonstrative particle. And it's purpose is to express
surprise or delight, and to summon the immediate attention
of the listener. Older English speakers might have said
"Lo!"Cas in, "[Lo!] how good and pleasant it is when brothers
dwell in unity!" The design of this first word, then, is to arrest
our attention and direct our thoughts in a very focused way
on whatever subject is being introduced.
In this case, the subject is unity. By the way, this is one of
just four of the fifteen psalms that is specifically attributed to
David. And let me remind you that the inscription is part of
the inspired text. So we know with certainty who the author
of this psalm was.
Furthermore, what we know about David's life gives us a
solid clue about the context in which this psalm was written,
and I'll show you that. But first, here's the whole psalm:
A SONG OF ASCENTS. OF DAVID. Behold, how good and
pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on
the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the
collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the
mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded
the blessing, life forevermore.
Precious Unity 3
I love the brevity and sharp focus we get from a simple
psalm like this. The whole subject is given in the final word
of that first verse. Again, it's a song about unity. The
structure is very simple. Verse 1 commends unity among
brethren as a great blessing. Verse 2 illustrates the blessing
of unity with the imagery of anointing oil. And verse 3
illustrates the blessing of unity with an illustration of dew on
So let's break this down and learn as much as we can
about unity from these three simple verses.
First, I mentioned the context in which this psalm was
written. That demonstrative particle that starts the psalm
("Behold!") gives it the flavor of a great sigh of relief, a
prayer of thanksgiving, and a gentle pleaCa subtle
admonition to the brethren spoken of in verse 1, urging them
to maintain the blessing of unity.
"Behold!" Here is a marvel rarely experienced! A blessing
worth preserving! A benefit with no danger or downside.
"How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!"
This is a that song apparently comes from the heart of
someone who has been earnestly longing for unity, someone
who has suffered greatly because of the conflicts created by
disunity, and someone who is deeply grateful for the relief
from his suffering now that unity has finally brought peace.
This whole psalm perfectly answers a verse we saw in the
Psalm 133 4
very first of these pilgrim psalms, Psalm 120:6: "Too long
have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace."
Since this psalm was penned by David, it's not
particularly difficult to infer what era of his life may have
produced this psalm. There is one moment in the life of
David where this psalm would best fit. It seems to be David's
song of celebration in response to the peace and harmony
that settled over the nation when David, the rightful king,
was finally installed on the throne. Scripture describes the
years leading up to that event as a time of fierce division and
David, of course, was anointed to be king shortly after
Samuel prophesied that Saul and his heirs would be deposed.
But David had to endure years of exile and torment from the
hand of Saul, because Saul was obviously not happy to
relinquish the throne. In fact, he never did step down. Saul
continued to occupy the throne until he died.
Even when Saul died, David did not immediately take the
reins of government. There was a long power struggle in
Israel, which led to civil war. The kingdom was nearly torn
in two. Here's how that happened.
You probably remember that Saul's reign as king ended in
utter disgrace. He diedCor rather he took his own lifeCin a
losing battle with the Philistines. Saul had been wounded by
arrows shot from some Philistine archers, and he was about
to be captured. So he committed suicide rather than face
Precious Unity 5
mistreatment at the hands of the Philistines. The whole battle
turned into a bitter defeat for Israel's army. According to 1
Samuel 31:6, "Saul died, and his three sons, and his
armor-bearer, and all his men, [all] on the same day together."
Now, that would seem to have been the end of Saul's
dynasty. For years before he died, Saul had been nothing
more than a trespasser on the throneCin effect, a usurper.
Now Saul was dead, and so were his three eldest sons. If
Saul had been the legitimate king of Israel, his eldest
surviving son would have been heir to his throneCand these
three sons were the best, most likely candidates. But now
Saul's most capable sons were all dead. Samuel had already
anointed David as the new king. That was way back in 1
Samuel 16Cseveral years before Saul's death in chapter 31.
So you might think David would finally be able to occupy
the throne. It was, after all, rightfully his. And that was no
secret. It was common knowledge that God had appointed
David to be the next king. But the transition from Saul to
David led to bitter conflict. All but one of the tribes of Israel
By the way, you see the character of David in the fact that
he mourns the death of Saul. David even wrote a psalm for
the occasion, and it's recorded in 2 Samuel 2:19-27. You'll
recognize the most famous line in that psalm: "How the
mighty have fallen!" The first and last verse of the psalm both
include that line. It's a song of bitter lament, and despite
Psalm 133 6
Saul's hatred for David, David's song is full of gracious
praise for Saul.
Saul's son, Jonathan, was of course David's best friend,
and Jonathan was also one of the three sons of Saul who died
on the same day as their father, so perhaps that helps explain
the depth of David's grief. Saul's determination to kill David
made it impossible for David and Jonathan to enjoy any kind
of fellowship or friendship. By now they had not been close
companions for several years, and that was a deep heartache
to David. That perhaps helps explain why David was so sick
of conflict and so eager to see unity in Israel.
Anyway, shortly after Saul's death, a group of officials
from the tribe of Judah came to David with the expectation
of installing Davis as king. Second Samuel 2:4 says, "The
men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the
house of Judah." David, of course, was from the tribe of
Judah, so these men were representatives from his own tribe.
Saul had come from the line of Benjamin, and this bid to
make David king ignited a violent rivalry between those two
Now you have to remember, when Saul became the first
king of Israel back in 1 Samuel 8, it was at the behest of the
people Israel. In an act of rebellion against God's plan for
the nation, representatives of the people came to Samuel and
demanded a king. When Samuel tried to explain that God
Himself was the rightful monarch of Israel, and that made
Precious Unity 7
Israel unique among the nations, the people told Samuel (1
Samuel 8:19-20) "No! But there shall be a king over us, that we
also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us
and go out before us and fight our battles."
And as sometimes happens when God wants us to taste
the consequences of our own sins, the Lord gave them what
they asked for. First Samuel 8:22: "The LORD said to Samuel,
'Obey their voice and make them a king.'"
So the people chose their own king. Now note carefully
what they said when they demanded a king. We want a king,
they said, so "that we also may be like all the nations." And
therefore the king they chose fit the bill perfectly. He was the
tallest, most muscular, best-looking man in the nation. First
Samuel 9:2 describes him this way: He was "a handsome
young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel
more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was
taller than any of the people." But his looks were pretty much
his only qualification. His reign as king proved that he was
not a man of any depth or character. He was strongly
self-willed, lacking in discernment, and bereft of personal
devotion to the Lord. But he really looked good. (In that
regard, I think, Saul would have made a very appealing
candidate for the American electorate today.)
Anyway, the people chose Saul as their king. And even
Saul at first seemed to think it was a bad idea. When people
started treating him the way you would treat a king, he said
Psalm 133 8
(1 Samuel 9:21), "Am I not a Benjaminite, from the least of the
tribes of Israel? And is not my clan the humblest of all the clans
of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then have you spoken to me in
And it was only after he became king that Saul became
the living embodiment of that familiar saying: "Power
corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Saul morphed
into this self-willed, fleshly-minded, corrupt, capricious, and
ultimately demon-possessed king. It could not have been a
good and pleasant thing to live under a ruler such as Saul in
his declining years.
But the whole point among the people was (in their own
words) to "be like all the nations." And the kings of other
nations had dynasties. Their own sons succeeded them on the
throne when they diedCand it didn't matter whether they
were benevolent or evil; the dynasty had to be kept intact,
because a long dynasty was perceived as evidence of the
nation's power and stability. So amazingly, the majority of
Israel wanted the eldest surviving son of Saul to be the next
king. This was a weak and incompetent man named
Ish-bosheth. He was twelve years older than David, but not a
man who was fit to lead.
The commander of Saul's army was a man named Abner.
When Saul died, Abner "took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul . . .
and he made him king." Ish-bosheth probably would never
have sought such an honor on his own, but Abner used him
Precious Unity 9
as a political pawn. It's clear from the larger narrative that
Abner was the ambitious one. Second Samuel 3:11 says
Ish-bosheth was afraid of Abner. So Abner is clearly the one
in charge here. He obviously did not want to lose his clout as
commander of the king's army, and he needed a kind of
puppet king who would keep him in that position.
Ish-bosheth was the perfect choiceCa man with a credible
claim to be heir to Saul's legacy. But it's clear that Abner was
the true power behind the throne.
So we read in 2 Samuel 2:10 that "Ish-bosheth, Saul's son,
was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he
reigned two years. [Only] the house of Judah followed David."
All eleven other tribes remained loyal to the dynasty of Saul.
The result was a bitter civil war. At first, Abner (now
Ish-bosheth's commander) and Joab (David's commander)
agreed to choose twelve champions from their respective
armies and have a contest among these elite fighting men in
lieu of an all-out war. But 2 Samuel 2:16 says, "Each caught
his opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his opponent's
side, so they fell down together." In other words, all 24 men
from both sides' special forces killed each other, so the
contest immediately gave way to an all-out war. Scripture
says, "The battle was very fierce that day. And Abner and the
men of Israel were beaten before the servants of David."
The details of this civil war are chillingCespecially when
you realize these are Israelites fighting their fellow Israelites.
Psalm 133 10
Brothers against brothers. You can read about it for yourself
in the early chapters of 2 Samuel. Second Samuel 3:1 sums it
up this way: "There was a long war between the house of Saul
and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger,
while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker."
Then it all gets really ugly. Ish-bosheth accuses Abner of
fornicating with one of Saul's concubines. So Abner turns
against Ish-bosheth and tries to make peace with David.
Joab, commander of David's army, assassinates Abner in
revenge for the fact that Abner had killed Joab's brother.
Without Abner propping him up, Ish-bosheth is too weak to
maintain the illusion that he was the king. Scripture says,
"When Ish-bosheth, Saul's son, heard that Abner had died . . .
his courage failed, and all Israel was dismayed."
A couple of wicked men in Ish-bosheth's army then
decided to try to ingratiate themselves to David by killing
Ish-bosheth. So they snuck into Ish-bosheth's house while
"he was taking his noonday rest." They stabbed him to death,
beheaded him, and took his head to David, expecting to be
rewarded for their treachery. Instead, David had them killed,
their feet and hands cut off, and then he hanged their corpses.
I told you it was ugly. But bear in mind, what those men
did was treachery, couched in dishonesty, against someone
whom they had no right to kill. What David did, he did as
king, with all the authority God gives to a rightful ruler to
punish evildoers. In the words of Romans 13:3-4: "Rulers are
Precious Unity 11
not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear
of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you
will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good.
But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in
vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out
God's wrath on the wrongdoer."
And thus with the death of the men who killed
Ish-bosheth, the civil war and all its ugliness suddenly ended.
Completely. There was no man left in Israel who had an
illegitimate craving for kingly power. And 2 Samuel 5:1-4
all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said,
"Behold, we are your bone and flesh.
2 In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you
who led out and brought in Israel. And the LORD said to
you, 'You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you
shall be prince over Israel.'"
3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron,
and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron
before the LORD, and they anointed David king over
4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and
he reigned forty years.
David established the nation's capital in Jerusalem for the
first time and began to build the region around Mount Zion
into one of the world's great capital cities. He still fought
Psalm 133 12
wars against the Philistines and defended Israel against other
foreign threats, but from the time he ascended the throne
until his own son Absalom led a short-lived revolt, unity and
peace reigned throughout Israel. The nation then prospered
and grew under Solomon's leadership without wars of any
kind for another whole generation.
And then to illustrate just how fragile and precarious
unity can be, the nation split into two kingdoms after
Solomon died, and Israel and Judah were never united again.
So I think it's pretty clear that our psalm, written by
David, must pertain to that season in David's life when (after
decades of conflict and internal strife) he was able to unite
the twelve tribes of Israel into one tranquil and harmonious
kingdom. This psalm is the inspired reflection of a royal
heart finally at rest: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when
brothers dwell in unity!" And the psalm divides easily into
three parts. Each verse is one piece of the whole. Each verse
describes a unique blessing that unity brings. Verse 1 is
about how unity is good for the soul. Verse 2 is about how
unity sanctifies the body. And verse 3 is about how unity
refreshes the land. Let's look at each verse individually.
Precious Unity 13
VERSE 1: UNITY IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL
"Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in
unity!" Let's talk first about why unity is such a virtue, as
well as what genuine unity looks like. People today, I think,
have a totally skewed idea about what unity means and what
it is supposed to achieve. There's a true unity (that's what this
psalm celebrates), and there's a false brand of artificial unity
that is actually harmful rather than beneficial.
True unity is a reflection of God Himself. Unity is
embodied in his very nature. Here is what we confess,
together with all Christians from the beginning of the church
age: "We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,
neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and
another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of
the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the Glory equal,
the Majesty co-eternal."
That's a quote from the Athanasian Creed. Here's how the
Baptist Confession of faith says it:
The Lord our God is the one and only living and true
God; whose subsistence is in and of Himself . . . In this
divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the
Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one
substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole
divine essence, yet the essence undivided . . . one God,
who is not to be divided in nature and being, but
Psalm 133 14
distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and
personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the
foundation of all our communion with God, and
comfortable dependence on him."
In other words, God embodies unity. And the unity of God
entails a perfect, absolute agreement. It's a spiritual union,
not an organic or organizational alliance. That spiritual union
is expressly the kind of unity Jesus prayed for in John 17:21.
He prayed "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in
me, and I in you, that they also may be in us." And again in
verse 22: "that they may be one even as we are one, I in them
and you in me, that they may become perfectly one." So the
unity of the godhead is the model for the unity Christians are
supposed to seek and maintain.
Now, I preached a message here about eight years ago on
unity from John 17, and I made the point that what Jesus
describes in that prayer is not denominational unity. That's
what Roman Catholics tend to thinkCno matter how much
they disagree among themselves or how vastly different is
the assortment of worldviews that you will find represented
by various leaders in the Roman Catholic Church. They think
by all being members of the same organization they have
somehow achieved the unity Jesus prays for here.
That's clearly not the case, and the very words of John 17
prove it. In John 17:17, just a few sentences before He prays
for unity, Jesus says, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is
Precious Unity 15
truth." So at the very least, some shared commitment to truth
must lie at the heart of what Jesus prayed for.
Denominational boundaries are not necessarily a hindrance
to that kind of unity. But above all, the unity Christ sought
hinges on the spiritual union of all believers with Christ.
Ephesians 5:30 says, "We are members of his body." And
Romans 12:5: "We, though many, are one body in Christ, and
individually members one of another." In that sense, Christ's
prayer in John 17 has already been answered and is being
answered as the church is being built up in that spiritual
union that all true believers enjoy. At its root is a shared
belief in certain fundamental truths, and as we are being
sanctified and perfected, our unity with one another is being
perfected as well.
Perfect unity is also one of the central promises of the
New Covenant. Jeremiah 32:39: "I will give them one heart and
one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and
the good of their children after them." When we are glorified,
the unity Christ prayed for will finally be absolutely perfect,
and all true believers look forward eagerly to that day. We
have a taste of it now, but we look forward to an absolutely
perfect unity. It's part of our birthright as believers.
I won't develop that point any further this morning, except
to say that even while we await the perfection of our unity,
we already enjoy a tremendous amount of unity with all the
true people of God right now, and we seek a greater unity,
Psalm 133 16
which we gradually attain as we gain a more perfect
understanding of God and His Word. That is why we put so
much emphasis on the necessity of sound and accurate
True unity is actually undermined, not advanced, by
people those who think we should set aside all concerns
about sound doctrine. What they think we need is basically
just a group hug with everyone who claims to be a Christian,
regardless of what they teach. That's a recipe for error and
ultimately division. It is not a path to true unity.
I mentioned there's a false kind of unity, and I've just
described it for you. It's the notion that is so popular today
that truth and doctrine are obstacles to unity. As if you could
have unity among people who really don't agree on anything.
But lot's of people think precisely that way. They believe we
might all be able to get along if only we would all refuse to
make truth an issue. Just accept (or ignore) all the lies, the
heresies, the false prophecies, the pagan superstitionsCdon't
contradict any of those things; don't worry about themCjust
get along with everyone. That's how many (perhaps most)
people today think "unity" must be achieved.
That's not unity. It's confusion, and 1 Corinthians 14:33
says, "God is not a God of confusion but of peace."
Again, the spiritual union and perfect agreement among
the Persons of the Godhead are the perfect example of true
unity. And that means agreement with the Word of God an
Precious Unity 17
absolute essentialCthe single most obvious fruitCof true
But real unity is not only about being of one opinion. As
Christians, we are driven by one affection: our love for
Christ. We share one loyalty: to the lordship of Christ. And
we have one duty: love. Love for God and love for our
Ephesians 4;2-6 starts at that very point and goes on to
describe all the essential elements of Christian unity. Paul
says we pursue unity by:
bearing with one another in love,
3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of
4 There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called
to the one hope that belongs to your call--
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all
and in all.
So we enjoy unity as brothers and sisters in Christ, even
while we find it necessary wage ideological battles against
the false doctrines and the superstitious beliefs of Philistines
who pretend to be Christians but are not in any way united
with Christ. They represent a serious threat to true unity
among our brethren if they try to encroach on the fellowship
of believersCbecause they lack that vital connection to
Psalm 133 18
By the way, that image of simultaneous unity among the
brethren and war against the Philistines mirrors the actual
situation in Israel when David penned this psalm. While
David was celebrating "how good and pleasant it is when
brothers dwell in unity," he was in the process of waging war
against fierce foreign enemies who threatened the peace of
Now back to our text. Notice the two adjectives there in
verse 1: "good and pleasant." Have you ever noticed that lots
of things that are good are not pleasant; and lots of things
that are pleasant are not good. Unity is both good and
pleasantCand therefore it's one of the finest of all virtues, not
only good for the soul, but also pleasing to the heart.
Unity is "good," because it reflects the very nature of God.
It is virtuous, honorableCan expression of righteousness. It's
an extreme wickedness to undermine unity. Proverbs 6:19
says this is one of seven things God hates with a holy
passion: "one who sows discord among brothers." A few
verses before that (Proverbs 6:14), we read: "A worthless
person, a wicked man . . . with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord." Proverbs 16:28: "A dishonest man
spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends." In
other words, someone who seems to think there's something
compelling about causing division must have a mind totally
given over to evil. Scripture uses very harsh language:
Anyone who delights in setting brothers against one another
Precious Unity 19
is worthless and wicked. But conversely (James 3:18): "a
harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make
peace." So unity is honorable, and noble, and holy. It's
More than that, unity is "pleasant." That means, first of
all, that it's pleasing to God. He takes pleasure in it. He
delights in it.
But also, in a very practical way, unity is pleasant to those
who experience it. You know this, I hope, in your own
household. It's a truly pleasant, joyous, exhilarating thing to
dwell in unity with your wife and kidsCloving one another,
serving one another, and creating a home environment that is
free from strife. That's perhaps the easiest, most immediate
path to tranquility and earthly bliss that's available to any of
us. I frankly don't understand people who seem to have a
perverse need to cause strife in their own families. But I
know there are lots of people like that, because it seems like
they always end up seeking counsel. But they are also the
kind of people who are resistent to counsel. I think some
people are so addicted to conflict that they simply cannot
abstain from picking fights with their spouse and family
members. Again, I don't understand that, and I certainly don't
sympathize with it. It's absolutely vile; the textbook
definition of sinful foolishness.
But it's a sin that creates its own painful consequence.
Scripture clearly highlights this repeatedly. It's a simple
Psalm 133 20
principle: Unity is pleasant; living with conflict is
unpleasant. Proverbs 21:9: "It is better to live in a corner of the
housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife."
Same chapter, verse 19: "It is better to dwell in the wilderness,
than with a contentious and an angry woman." Proverbs 25:24
repeats verbatim Proverbs 21:9, so I gather Solomon must
have felt pretty strongly about this: "It is better to live in a
corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a
quarrelsome wife." I'm guessing he had a specific axe to
But he doesn't just single out bickering wives. Proverbs
22:24-25: "Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor
go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle
yourself in a snare." Proverbs 20:3: "It is an honor for a man to
keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling." Bottom
line, a lack of unity makes everything in the household
unpleasant. Proverbs 17:1: "Better is a dry morsel with quiet
than a house full of feasting with strife."
Here's the point: unity is a pleasant thing, pleasing to the
heart and good for the soul. In a family, it makes the
household pleasant; in a nation, it fosters prosperity and civic
congeniality; in the church, it pleases God, honors Christ,
cultivates joy, stimulates love, and nurtures the welfare of the
flock. "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell
in unity!" It is good and pleasant in every wayCgood for the
soul. That's the whole point of verse 1. Here'sC
Precious Unity 21
VERSE 2: UNITY SANCTIFIES THE BODY
The imagery of verse 2 is vivid, and bear in mind that the
subject is still unity: "It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running
down on the collar of his robes!"
If you're reading a different translation, it might speak of
the oil running down to the hem of his garment. The Hebrew
expression literally means "going down to the mouth of his
garment"Cso it suggests the idea of an opening in the
garment. The same Hebrew word was used to speak of both
the lower and the upper opening of a garment, so the text
really isn't as specific as most of our translations make it.
Some commentators think this a reference to the lower
hem, so you'd have the oil literally saturating the whole
garment. Others say, no, this is speaking of just the
collarCbecause, let's be honest, the idea of a priest literally
soaked from head to foot with oil doesn't make a very
pleasing mental image. John Gill says, for example, "[It
wouldn't] have been decent to have his clothes . . . greased
from top to bottom." The fact is, the outer garment of the
priest's outfit was a sleeveless smock called the ephod. Here's
what Exodus 28:31 says about how the ephod was made:
"Make the robe of the ephod all of blue. It shall have an opening
for the head in the middle of it, with a woven binding around the
opening, like the opening in a garment, so that it may not tear."
Psalm 133 22
So in other words, there was a band of woven cloth
encircling opening at the neck, and one class of
commentators say that's what this meansCnot the lower hem
of the priest's robe, but the collar.
But other commentators say, No, this is oil all the way
down. Here's one who says, "The oil was poured upon the
head of Aaron so profusely as to run down upon his
garments. It is customary in the east to pour out the oil on the
head so profusely as to reach every limb."
I don't know whether it's vitally important one way or
another. Either way, it's a picture of the oil copiously flowing
down, being diffused over a long distance. And the idea both
here and in verse 3 is to suggest that the liquid flows from
the height to the depths, so I'm inclined, I think, to agree with
those who think the imagery does picture the high priest
being anointed literally from head to foot.
This wasn't normally done. Priests were routinely
anointed by just a sprinkling of oil. But this specifically
mentions Aaron, and when the first Tabernacle was
inaugurated and Aaron was anointed, Leviticus 8:12 says
Moses "poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head, and
anointed him, to sanctify him"Cimplying a large amount of
this special, fragrant oil was used on that occasion. It's
reminiscent of John 12:3, where we are told that "Mary . . .
took a [whole] pound of expensive ointment made from pure
nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her
Precious Unity 23
hair. The [whole] house was filled with the fragrance of the
Now "the precious oil" in our psalm refers to something
very specific and unique. It's the anointing oil that was
prepared for the Tabernacle, and set aside to anoint the
priests and sacrificial furnishings. It was made from a
God-given recipe, and that recipe was not to be used to make
oil for any other purpose.
It wasn't a secret recipe, though. It's recorded for us in
Exodus 30:22-25. Listen to that passage:
The LORD said to Moses,
23 "Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels,
and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250,
and 250 of aromatic cane,
24 and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the
sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil.
25 And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil
blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing
That's a large amount of very aromatic oilCabout a gallon
and a half. The Lord goes on to instruct Moses to anoint all
the sacred instruments in the Tabernacle, as well as Aaron.
And he says this (verses 29-30): "You shall consecrate [the
priestly implements with this oil], that they may be most holy.
Whatever touches them will become holy. You shall anoint Aaron
and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as
Psalm 133 24
priests." And furthermore (verse 31): "This shall be my holy
anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be poured
on the body of an ordinary person, and you shall make no other
like it in composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you.
Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an
outsider shall be cut off from his people."
The oil was highly fragrant, with a very pleasing
fragrance. It was unique and holy. But most important, it was
such an important symbol of holiness that anything it
touched (among the things it was meant to touch) was
thereby deemed holy; and anything it touched illegitimately
was thereby fit only for destruction. The oil belonged to the
Lord, and it had just one purpose: to sanctify the instruments
of worship and sacrifice.
So when our psalm compares unity to the oil running
through Aaron's beard and down to the hem of his garment,
the message is that unity has a sanctifying effect. The church,
the body of Christ, is sanctified by our unity in a way that
even exceeds the mere symbolism of Aaron's oil. We are
truly and literally sanctifiedCmade holyCthrough the
cultivation of unity with one another. That's why Jesus'
prayer for our sanctification in John 17 focused so much on
unity. Unity sanctifies the body in a profound and singular
way. That's what verse 2 is about: the special sanctifying
influence of brotherly unity. So again: Verse 1: Unity is good
for the soul. Verse 2: Unity sanctifies the body. Now, finally,
Precious Unity 25
VERSE 3: UNITY REFRESHES THE LAND
Verse 3 paints the picture of "the dew of Hermon, which
falls on the mountains of Zion!" That statement is a little bit
hard to unravel, because Mount Hermon is 120 miles north
and east of Jerusalem (as the crow flies), nowhere close to
Zion. And given the geography of the region, there is no way
the dew of Hermon could literally run downhill and end up
on Mt. Zion. It might flow all the way to the Dead Sea, but to
get to Jerusalem from Hermon, it would have to go
thousands of feet downhill, then thousands of feet back up.
One commentator I read claimed there was another hill
just above Mt. Zion nicknamed Hermon, but no one else
agrees with that. Another commentator says verse 3 doesn't
really mean to say Zion, but Sirion, which is another name
for one of the lower peaks on the Mt. Hermon range. I'm not
buying that, either.
Mt. Hermon is a very high range. (It has three peaks all
more than 9,000 feet high.) And Hermon has the heaviest
dew and the greatest amount of rainfall in that sector of the
middle east. And for much of the year, the peak of the
mountain is covered with snow. There's a famous ski resort
on eastern slope of Hermon. So it's true that Hermon is a
major source of water for the Golan heights and all the
regions further south. A lot of that water runs down into the
sea of Galilee, and from there, past Jerusalem to the Dead
Psalm 133 26
Sea. But there's no way (aside from evaporation and then
new rain) that "the dew of Hermon" could run down onto "the
mountains of Zion." Skeptics sometimes cite this passage as
an example of an egregious geographical error in the Bible.
But the solution to all this is really quite simple. The
psalmist is describing a hypothetical a scenario where heavy
dew gathers on Zion and runs down. Zion doesn't generally
get that kind of dew. But the psalmist is comparing brotherly
unity to what it would be like if Zion got the same kind of
heavy dew and rainfall Mt. Hermon gets. You could literally
translate the Hebrew that way: "It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion." That's precisely how the NIV has
it, and in this case, I think the NIV gets it right. "It is as if the
dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion"Crefreshing the
land, watering and enlivening the barren ground around
Jerusalem, causing the whole land to be refreshed and
We know what that's like in Southern California after a
period of drought. We wish for a long and steady rain, and
we rejoice when it comes. That, the psalmist says, is what
unity among brethren is like.
There's a similarity between verse three and the
illustration in verse 2. Both verses picture unity as flowing
down, diffusing, and dispersing blessings. In verse 2, it's the
blessing of holiness and a sweet-smelling fragrance. In verse
3 its the blessing of refreshment and life-giving hydration.
Precious Unity 27
The whole idea of the psalm, then is that unity is a
uniquely rich blessing, filled with a plethora of affiliated
benefits. It's a fountain of happiness and pleasure, and it is
sheer folly to spurn the pursuit of unity in a family, in a
nation, and above all in the church. A lack of unity in any
kind of family or community only makes every aspect of life
exponentially harder and more unpleasant.
Romans 14:9: "So then let us pursue what makes for peace
and for mutual upbuilding." And 1 Peter 3:8: "Finally, all of you,
have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and
a humble mind." That's the same message as our psalm.